Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Excommunicating the Creation Stewards

At the Clothesline Report, we really try to avoid party politics.  We almost never mention the party affiliation of creation care advocates or their opponents.  We’ve been critical of Congressional climate deniers, but we were also tough on the President on matters like the Tar Sands pipeline.

But as much as we try to avoid the political parties, it seems that they keep finding us.

So with heavy heart, we note today that presidential candidate Rick Santorum has told the world – or at least strongly implied – that you can be a Christian (like us), or you can be an environmental advocate (like us also), but you can’t be both.  Here’s how it happened:

Two days ago, the Senator told supporters that President Obama embraced “some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.”

Now even the most cynical political hacks consider outright attacks on an opponent’s religious belief to be off limits in America.  So by Sunday morning, Santorum was on “Face the Nation” explaining himself to CBS’s Bob Schiffer.  “So, Senator, I've got to ask you,” said the newsman. “What in the world were you talking about, Sir?”

“Well, I was talking about the radical environmentalists,” replied Santorum.  “I just said that when you have a world view that elevates the Earth above man and says that, you know, we can't take those resources because we're going to harm the Earth by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, that politicization of the whole global warming debate, I mean, this is all an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government.”

Hmm.  That’s a mouthful.

But let’s take this statement seriously.  It warrants a careful review.  First, you have a theology that is based on the Bible: presumably, the Senator’s got it. And then you’ve got theology that’s not: that would appear at first to be the President’s personal faith, but that’s not what he means.  Instead, the non-biblical theology is what those “radical environmentalists” are planning and doing about politicization of “global warming.” 

Now, who are these radical environmentalists?  They're the ones (like us) who take seriously the warnings about the threat of global warming and, I suppose, politicize it. Whatever their politics, they listen to the National Academy of Sciences; and the National Academies of all G8 countries plus China, Brazil, Mexico, India and South Africa; and NASA; and NOAA; and the U.S. Armed Services; and 97% of all climatologists; and the entire United Nations. All these authorities affirm the reality of climate change, and advocate sharp reductions in greenhouse gases.

And what is the real non-biblical goal of those radical environmentalists? “Centralize power and to give more power to the government.”

Later that day, Santorum shed even more light on what this “phony theology” really means: “You can call it a theology… but they want to impose it on everybody else while they insist and complain that somehow or another people of Judeo/Christian faith are intolerant of their new moral code.”

You got that, didn’t you?  At first, advocates for environmental justice (like us) aren’t “based on the Bible.”  But it gets worse:  Now we’re not even “Judeo/Christian.” The real Christians and Jews are the ones we complain about with our "new moral code."

Well, I don’t like being excommunicated from my faith.  Not one bit.

Rev. John Stott
But when I look around, I see some remarkable fellow outcasts.  For starters, there’s the late and great Rev. John Stott, who warned us in his final writings about climate change: “Of all the global threats that face our planet,” wrote this venerable man, “this is the most serious.” Is it possible? Was the saintly Stott mired in a “phony theology?”

Then there’s Rev. Leith Andersen, President of the National Association of Evangelicals.  He signed a declaration that stated:  “Christians must care about climate change because we love God the Creator and Jesus our Lord, through whom and for whom the creation was made.”

Andersen was joined by bestselling author Rev. Rick Warren, Rev. Jim Wallis (founder, Sojourners), and Rev. Ron Sider (founder, Evangelicals for Social Action) plus 300 other (formerly?) Christian leaders. They too signed the declaration. Do they too have a “phony theology?”

And then – oh! Look! – the 4,000 delegates from 200 countries who formed the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa.  They affirmed the following commitment:   “Love for God’s creation demands that we repent of our part in the destruction, waste and pollution of the earth’s resources and our collusion in the toxic idolatry of consumerism.  We support Christians whose particular missional calling is to environmental advocacy and action (like us).” More phonies? Not Judeo/Christians?

Lausanne Congress: 4,000 delegates from the entire world
What's more, there are all those U.S. Catholic bishops!  They came together to commit themselves to the following covenant: “As faithful Catholics, we have a moral obligation to care for both Creation and the poor. Pope Benedict XVI insists, ‘Before it is too late, it is necessary to make courageous decisions’ to curb climate change.” Are they too among the phonies?

You know, I don’t like being excommunicated by the Senator.  But as I look around at my fellow outcasts, it’s beginning to feel a tiny bit like the community of heaven. Who would have imagined that they were all conspiring to "give more power to the government?"

But let's look beyond the irony of it all.  Has anyone wondered at the mindset that hatched this line of reasoning? The narrative goes like this:  “It’s a political mistake to question the religious faith of one particular man.  So to cover our tracks, let’s just explain that we were only denying the spiritual legitimacy of people worldwide for whom creation care is a matter of allegiance to their God, and a matter of love to the millions who cling to the margins on an increasingly degraded planet.”

Does this sound right to you?

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Monday, February 20, 2012

Death Threats Against Scientists – In America

Here at the Clothesline Report, we sometimes get unflattering responses to our posts.  Usually, they involve tenuously-related references to things like  “Al Gore” or “godless religion” or “extremist hysteria.” I attempt to offer perspectives that are full of information and insight, but I’ve been told that I’m full of something distinctly less pleasant.

Well – it turns out – we ain’t seen nothing.

At Texas Tech University, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe conducts research and teaches the same science that all Texas climatologists embrace:  The global climate is changing – largely due to human activities – posing a serious threat to millions today and more in the future.  But there’s something different about Dr. Hayhoe: She’s an outspoken evangelical Christian – the daughter of missionaries and married to a Baptist minister and author.

“God has saved us, accepted us, forgiven us, and loved us for eternity, no matter what,” writes Hayhoe with her husband, Andrew Farley, co-authors of an excellent book.  “Given His radical grace toward us, will we choose to serve one another, or will we live in a bubble of ignorance about the outside world? If decisions can be made on an everyday basis, decisions that make sense, and ensure a cleaner and better world for us, our children, and everyone else on the planet, then why not make them?”

That message apparently doesn’t sit well with Rush Limbaugh, who ridiculed Dr. Hayhoe as “a climate babe.”  The chorus was taken up by a former top aide to Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe ("climate change is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” – THAT Sen. Inhofe ($1,287,950*)). The aide attacked her character on his climate-denial website, and made sure all his potential hate-mailing readers had her email address.

Dr. Hayhoe’s message has been measured and gentle – reflecting the overwhelming consensus of her profession and the best impulses of her faith community.  “God has placed His love in our hearts: love for Him; love for His people; and love for His creation. We love, because He first loved us.” And responsible action on climate change is necessary for “loving our global neighbor as we should....”

But her critics take a decidedly different tone.  Last week, Texas Climate News reprinted a sampling of the flood of hate mail that the Limbaugh/Inhofe machine has generated.  Hold your nose, and take a look:
  • “You are a fraud….  Your name and the names of the other warming alarmists will be mud as the years go forward. You are a disgrace. You are a nut.”
  • “You are nothing but a liar; you lie.”
  • “Nazi Bitch Whore Climatebecile….  You stupid bitch, You are a mass murderer and will be convicted at the Reality TV Grand Jury in Nuremberg, Pennsylvania….  After the Grand Jury indicts you, I would like to see you convicted and beheaded by guillotine in the public square, to show women that if they are going to take a man’s job, they have to take the heat for mass murder, just like the men do when they get caught. If you have a child, then women in the future will be even more leery of lying to get ahead, when they see your baby crying next to the basket next to the guillotine.”
  • “…The problem with America is women refuse to stay at home taking care and nurturing their offspring while prioritizing their selfish ambitions attempting to carve out a career for themselves.  Be a good mother or be a good researcher.”
  • “Get a real job.  McDonald’s is hiring.”
Needless to say, this barrage and hundreds more like them can be demoralizing and intimidating to the most stalwart soul.

“I think that there is no question that much of this is intended to intimidate, “ said Dr. Hayhoe in the video interview posted below.  “Just think about it. You sit down at your computer and you write an email to someone you’ve never met and you tell that person that they are a liar, that you hate them, that you’re disgusted by what they do. What do you think you’re doing by doing that? You’re not setting the person up to have a great day.

“And I think there’s an extra dimension, because as a woman, most of the attacks that I’m receiving are from men. So that has a very different dynamic to it that honestly can feel very threatening and intimidating sometimes.”

Dr. Hayhoe is not alone by any means.   The head of MIT’s climate science department has been threatened by climate deniers, together with his wife.  PennState’s lead climate scientist is so battle-hardened as to consider hate mail and legal harassment an occupational hazard of the profession.  A visiting climate scientist in Australia received a death threat mid-lecture by a man brandishing a noose.

So what can people of goodwill do to combat the swarm of vicious assaults against researchers, Christian and secular?  Well, realistically, we can’t stop the hate-mail perpetrators themselves.  And probably, we can’t stop the commentators and bloggers who encourage the abuse.  But maybe we could send some “love mail.”  Why not tell the scientists how much we appreciate their work?  Maybe a few words of intelligent appreciation will be enough to  encourage them to carry on for another day in the vital service they provide to us and to our Father's world.

Unlike the hate-mongers, I won’t provide the email addresses.  But if you want to send a note, you won’t have any trouble finding these brave souls.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

  • Find the the complete story of Katharine Hayhoe’s ordeal here.
  • Find Hayhoe’s and Farley’s book, “A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions” here.
  • * We list in red the amounts of money U.S. politicians have taken from oil, gas and coal lobbyists.  Check out any of them by name here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Who’s Really Hurting the Pro-Life Cause?

Last week, the Clothesline Report posted an article about an evangelical Christian minister testifying before Congress in support of the EPA’s mercury emissions standards.  Rev. Mitch Hescox told the legislators:  “I’m an evangelical, and I’m concerned about life.  I believe we should stand up and protect our unborn – the ‘least of these.’  I’m here because it’s a life issue.”

Rev. Hescox was opposed by an oil-backed congressman from Illinois, who characterized Hescox’s testimony as “masquerading” and “usurping” the pro-life banner. Even the backing of the National Association of Evangelicals and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops didn’t carry much weight with Hescox’s critics.

We observed that the exchange highlighted a fundamental divide in religious understandings of the sanctity of life: Stopping abortions alone; or protecting human life in all its stages from all forms of threat.

We thought we were the only ones watching. But it turns out that lots of people were tuned in. And as best as we can tell, they don’t like what they’re seeing.  Here’s a sampling of comments to a related article from the online publication, The Hill:
  • “Evangelical Christians aren’t truly pro-life.”
  • “They’re pro-life as long as you’re a fetus.  When you’re born, you become fodder.”
  • “God hates clean air.”
  • “This is all about money and power.  To pretend that opposing EPA's life-affirming and life-protecting rules is to support the poor is a ruse.”
  • “The term ‘pro-life’ is hi-jacked by those who have a narrow view of the God-given sanctity of life.”
  • “Killing by spoon, gun or smoke stack is no different.”
  • “Once again, supposedly ‘pro-life’ and ‘Christian’ organizations are slamming an evangelical environmental group...”
  • “Apparently ‘pro-life’ can only mean one thing, and that's not protection from deadly pollution.”
The comments go on and on. I’d have to say that this is not a high-water mark for the “city on a hill.” The sight of American Christians lining up – in the name of the sanctity of life –  to oppose fellow Christians who support clean air standards surely gives great comfort to those who care little about the kingdom of God, and about the sanctity of all lives He created.

And so, still smarting from the public finger-wagging at people identified with my faith, I thought I’d refer you to an article written by a Baptist minister:  The Far-Right Fringe Embarrasses the Pro-Life Movement – Again. Rev. Charles Redfern asks the question that forms the title to this post. And he doesn’t pull his punches, so you’re forewarned.  But if you’d like to see one Christian pastor's defense of Rev. Hescox’s stand, take a look here.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Feedback Loops: How Killer Heat Begets More Killer Heat

The Texas congressional delegation usually doesn’t have much use for scientists.  No other group of lawmakers has so recklessly dismissed all scientific warnings about climate change and environmental degradation.

So I sat up and took notice last week when Texas Rep. Pete Olson ($352,000*) admitted that he accepted the findings of the climate experts.  Well, sort of.

[*Note: We provide in red brackets the amount of money politicians have accepted from oil, gas and coal lobbyists. Find how much your Congressional representatives have taken here.]

Olson ($352,000) was debating recent EPA regulations regarding emissions from coal-fired power plants last week.  And he had a tragic story to tell: “My home state of Texas is still suffering from a significant drought,” said Olson in what may be the understatement of the century.  “The district I represent went through the hottest August in history – above 100 degrees every single day in August.”

Record heat and drought had Texans praying for rain
And then came the shocker: “And experts predict,” admitted Olson, “that we’re going to have the same conditions occurring this summer.”

Yes, you heard it right: A Texas congressman citing climate warnings issued by Texas scientists.

In fact, we have been unable to find a single Texas climate scientist who does not agree that Texas is in for prolonged drought and heat waves.  From what we see, they also are unanimous in their assessment that human-caused climate change is exacerbating Texas’ heat and drought, threatening the state with potential long-term desertification.

We might think that a congressman faced with such dire warnings regarding his home district would move aggressively to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that the researchers tell us drive these climate trends.  But then, we would be wrong.

For Rep. Olson ($352,000), the record heat is all the more reason to burn more coal, to assure plenty of electricity for air conditioning.  “The organization that controls the grid for most of our state is worried about capacity shortages if this weather recurs, as expected,” said Olson.  For this reason, the congressman argued passionately against any regulation of coal-fired power plants by the EPA.

Black spot: Texas and much of Mexico are bone dry
Now, we’re very familiar with positive feedback loops.  For example, warmer global temperatures melt more sea ice; more white, reflective sea ice is replaced by dark, absorbent sea water; the dark water absorbs more solar heat, further warming the atmosphere; which, in turn, melts more sea ice; and so forth.

But there’s another feedback loop that gets less attention.  It’s the Human Feedback Loop.  People burn fossil fuels to power air conditioning virtually everywhere; the resulting carbon emissions drive extreme weather, including heat waves and droughts; and their representatives do everything possible to ensure that they can burn even more fossil fuels for the electricity to stay cool during those heat waves; and so forth.

The Human Feedback Loop does not bode well for efforts to preserve the earth’s climate systems.  Warm states like Texas owe much of their dynamism to air conditioning and the hydrocarbons that fuel it.  Now that blistering heat is the order of the day, cries for more fossil fuels will only intensify.

But the Texas researchers tell us that the carbon emissions are at the heart of the problem.  Texas State Climatologist JohnNielsen-Gammon puts it this way:  “There is evidence that global warming has had an effect on the drought, primarily by increasing the surface temperature, which increases the drought severity by increasing evaporation and water stress, and by decreasing stream flow and water supply.”

Texas Tech climate scientist and creation-care spokesperson Katherine Hayhoe reinforces the message:  “Climate change has already altered the background conditions of our atmosphere, and in that sense, every event — drought, heat, storm — contains climate change…. We know that in the future it will be hotter, with more extreme heat, so more water will evaporate, less water will be in the soil, and therefore we are more likely to have drought.”

Climate scientist Hayhoe cites Christian motivation
Rep. Olson ($352,000) accepts scientific warnings about coming heat and drought.  But like the rest of the Texas congressional delegation, he doesn’t have much use for the connection between greenhouse gases and Texas-sized climate catastrophe.  

Wonder why?  In a Texas congressional delegation awash with oil money, do you think it could have anything to do with the $352,000?

Whatever his reasons, he and his colleagues give us a perfect picture of the Human Feedback Loop. With the prospects for a blistering Texas summer, I wouldn’t expect it to ease up any time soon.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Hayhoe image credit: John Davis, Texas Tech University

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What Does It Mean to be Pro-Life?

Last Wednesday, a Congressional subcommittee held a hearing to debate the costs and benefits of the EPA’s recently-issued regulations of emissions from coal-fired power plants.  The sub-committee – chaired by Kentucky Rep. Ed Whitfield ($580,983*) – grilled the EPA’s representative, and numerous other witnesses from academia and industry.  Contrary to most of the testimony they heard, the congressmen repeatedly cited dire warnings from the coal industry that the rule would bankrupt much of the country.

[* Congressmen’s names are followed by the amount of money they have received from coal, oil and gas polluters.]

Eventually, they came to Rev. Mitch Hescox, a Christian minister, and the president of Evangelical Environmental Network.  Core to Hescox’s testimony was the idea that evangelicals are motivated by belief in the sanctity of life; that the gospel compels us to protect the most vulnerable – unborn children – from the ravages of mercury poisoning.

“Exposing children to mercury poisoning in their mother’s womb, a poisoning that will last a lifetime, is simply wrong,” said Hescox.  “We have it within our means to reduce 90% of the mercury emitted from coal-burning power plants without the fear of diminished electric reliability or job loss, and with economic benefits at least five times greater than the cost.”

Rev. Mitch Hescox of EEN
Hescox enumerated the threat to our children:  “According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 1 in 6 children in the United States are born with threatening levels of mercury.  Another medical research study places the number of children affected at roughly 15%. Mercury impairs neurological development, lowers IQ, and is linked to cardiovascular disease and a host of other potential adverse health impacts. Over 1,000 published medical journal articles verify mercury's heath impacts.”

When asked why he cared about the issue of mercury poisoning, Hescox replied: “I’m an evangelical, and I’m concerned about life.  I believe we should stand up and protect our unborn – the “least of these.”  I’m here because it’s a life issue.”

But not everyone sees it this way.  Texas Rep. Joey Barton ($1,914,183) claimed that there was no harm from mercury pollution. And Illinois Rep. John Shimkus ($731,804) – an apparently committed pro-lifer – was indignant.  Reading from a prepared text, Shimkus accused Rev. Hescox of “masquerading” under the banner of the sanctity of life.

“The ‘life’ in ‘pro-life’ denotes not the quality of life, but life itself,” said Shimkus ($731,804). “The term denotes opposition to a procedure that intentionally results in dead babies….  It’s not about the levels of harm or no harm.”

“Mr. Shimkus,” replied Rev. Hescox, “would you allow me to respond?”

“I think I’m doing pretty good right now,” replied Shimkus ($731,804), noting that he and his allies “take great offense when an evangelical movement tries to usurp the meaning of pro-life.”

Rep. John Shimkus (republicanconference)
When Shimkus finished, Hescox asked the panel for the opportunity to reply.

“I’m not going to allow him to respond,” said committee Chairman Whitfield ($580,983).

As unsavory as this debate appears to us outsiders, it highlights a fundamental divide in religious understandings of the sanctity of life.  The National Association of Evangelicals, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Evangelical Environmental Network take a broad view:  That following Christ in affirming the sanctity of life requires Christians to protect all people from harm, illness, injustice and violence. 

“We are united to protect life,” said Hescox, “a sacred gift from God, both before and after birth. Anything that threatens and impedes life, especially impacts on the unborn and young children, is contrary to our common beliefs and values and exacts a moral toll on the nation’s character.”

On the other hand, Rep. Shimkus ($731,804) articulates a very different view:  Affirming the sanctity of life has nothing to do with “levels of harm or no harm.”  Rather, it’s solely about opposing laws that permit a “specific procedure.”

Well, here at the Clothesline Report, we’re glad that the NEA, EEN and the Catholic Bishops have come together to make us think a bit.  We may come from different Christian traditions, but we share an allegiance to Jesus Christ.  When Jesus began his ministry, he went to the synagogue, and read aloud from the sacred writings of the prophet Isaiah.  Here’s what the text said:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. [ Isaiah 61]

Who was Jesus saying he was here for?  The poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the mourners and the weak.  Those whom he later called “the least of these my brothers.”

So is it enough oppose a “specific procedure” while protecting the interests of powerful polluting industries?  It would appear that many in Congress think so.

But, as for us, I think we’ll cast our lot with the evangelicals and the Bishops.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood